If you are like most new moms, you started to feel pressure to lose the "baby weight" as soon as you brought your baby home from the hospital. It's unfair, dangerous, and debilitating, especially if you choose to breastfeed and consequently feel like you are starving all damn day. You might to wonder if there's a special diet you should follow not only make enough milk for your baby, but fuel your life as a new mom. Is it even OK to try to lose weight while breastfeeding? According to experts the best breastfeeding diet plan doesn't involve restricting calories or "watching what you eat," so you may want to cut yourself some slack.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), breastfeeding women have different nutritional needs than pregnant or non-lactating women, requiring additional calories to ensure that they can make enough milk to feed their babies, that their breast milk contains sufficient nutrients, and also to ensure that they stay healthy during and after their lactating years. If you do choose to attempt to lose weight while breastfeeding, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends taking things slow, eating healthier, and adding moderate exercise instead of restricting calories. It's also OK to not diet while breastfeeding. Recovering from childbirth is no joke, breastfeeding is difficult, and you deserve to treat yourself well and eat what you like, when you like, and for as long as you like.
According to the NIH, breastfeeding moms need about 450 to 500 additional calories per day to make a sufficient amount of milk for their babies. That means you should eat a whooping 2,300 to 2,700 calories a day, if you don't get much exercise, and even more once you feel up to adding a significant amount of movement to your day. If your diet is already well-balanced, it's OK to simply increase the amount of food you eat each day to fuel your body and ensure that you make enough milk. However, if you're like me and you struggle to eat fruits and veggies, are a vegetarian or vegan, or eat an otherwise restricted diet, you may need to do some meal planning to get the right nutrients to fuel your body and ensure your breast milk has everything your baby needs.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, breastfeeding moms have additional dietary requirements when it comes to vitamins and minerals. They recommend eating fresh or frozen veggies and fruits containing plenty of vitamin A and potassium, like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, bananas, and mangoes. The same site recommends that nursing moms get plenty of calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese (yay cheese), especially those fortified with vitamins A and D, whole grains, and lean protein. If you eat fish like tuna, they suggest limiting your weekly consumption to 6 ounces or less, and if you don't eat fish, you might consider adding a docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin for omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for you and your baby.
You may have read that there are foods, beverages, or supplements that can increase your breast milk supply. Unfortunately, according to Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, there is only anecdotal evidence that foods or beverages — like oatmeal, beer, or lactation cookies — can actually increase your breast milk supply. There is, however, evidence that what you eat can impact the quality of your breast milk. The U.S. Institute of Medicine Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation recommends that lactating women eat a variety of foods rich in calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, and folate, both to ensure that their milk has everything baby needs and that they get adequate nutrition while breastfeeding.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, if you do decide to try to lose weight while breastfeeding, it's important to take things slow, aiming to lose no more than a pound a week. They recommend not eating less than 1,800 calories per day, so as to not impact your breast milk supply. The same site notes that while you may have heard that breastfeeding will help the pounds "melt off" after childbirth, your mileage may vary in this regard, so you shouldn't feel discouraged if you can't lose weight right away. They recommend to fill your plate half-way with fresh fruits and vegetables, eat at least three servings of calcium-rich dairy a day, select whole grains over refined flour and white rice, and eat plenty of protein, including lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, or nuts.
The bottom line: while you may feel pressure to both breastfeed and lose the baby weight after your baby is born, recovering from childbirth and breastfeeding are not easy, and it's important that you acquire adequate nutrition and hydration so you and your baby can thrive. Postpartum life is hard enough without adding more to your plate by trying to diet or lose weight at the same time. It might be time to cut yourself some slack and have an extra helping of cheese or ice cream instead. Calcium is super important for breastfeeding moms, you know. And besides, you deserve it.
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